Ireland was something out of a dream. It was my first country that I was traveling completely solo, my first time truly having to break out from what I’m used to. I already had very high hopes for what Ireland would bring; my grandparents were coming to visit, I was going to some culturally and historically rich cities, and I had plans to conquer Saint Patrick’s Day in Dublin. What more could one need?
I started out my Irish excursion riding through the rolling green landscapes to get to Belfast. I learned very quickly why Ireland is nearly synonymous with the color green. It’s everywhere, due to the crazy amounts of rain they get — which happens to be nearly 225 days every year. Belfast is now part of Northern Ireland, which is under the leadership of the United Kingdom. This comes after years of religious and political conflict. Belfast is now hugely focused on remembering these troubles and how they have pushed through them. On my day walk through the city, I saw numerous murals and memorials commemorating the efforts of those who fought for peace.
I took a day tour to the famous Giant’s Causeway, a natural work of art off the northern coast. The geometric rock shapes left me in awe of what had been created there through generations of weathering and erosion. The tour stopped along cliffs where the Game of Thrones series was filmed. I’m not a fan of the show so I wasn’t familiar with some of the locations, but they were still so magnificent to see. I also got to walk across a rope bridge spanning over the crashing waves below.
Belfast was so much fun for me because of the atmosphere as well. As I’ve been staying in hostels, I’ve realize that some are more sociable than others. However, Belfast was one of the most exciting and upbeat hostels I’ve been in yet. I had talkative roommates from Greece, California, New York, Denmark and Australia. Also, the minute I went into the kitchen/common area, I met people who were outgoing and ready to chat. Everyone was doing similar things — backpacking across Europe, traveling the world, finding themselves. We went out as a huge group that night and I immediately knew that I was going to be okay traveling solid. Being able to keep in touch with my new friends is great as well.
I then headed off on another bus journey to the western city of Galway. Not knowing much about it other than Ed Sheeran’s song lyrics, I was looking forward to walking around to see more. It’s a smaller city, but the Irish culture is so vibrant there. It’s the home of the well-known Claddagh ring, a common accessory for tourists and locals alike. I arrived in Galway later at night, but was instantly overjoyed as I walked down the street. Performers of all genres were showing their talents to those who passed as the moon lit up the narrow passageways.
I took another day trip to the Cliffs of Moher while in Galway. The weather started off cloudy and rainy as we made our first few stops at old castles and churches, but the sun greeted us kindly when we arrived at the Cliffs. The ocean churned underneath my feet and the wind was softly breezing as I stared out among the vast waters. It was so humbling to see; I can’t even imagine the awe that the first discoverers of the cliffs would have felt.
The next stop was Dublin. The first night I was there I met up with a friend I had met on my tour of the Giants Causeway. We went on a pub crawl through some of Dublin’s most urban pubs. It was a great night full of music, new friends, and my first taste of Guinness. I wasn’t a fan of the dark beer, but it was one of my bucket list things for Ireland, so I gave it a try anyways. It was also free, so I can’t complain too much.
My grandparents arrived the next day! I greeted them in our hotel and we talked for hours, just catching up. I can’t even begin to explain how exciting it was to see familiar faces. I was so happy to spend time with them over those few days. We did two walking tours to see both the medieval and modern parts of Dublin. Sadly, we had to walk through some rain showers, but we were in Ireland, so it didn’t matter to us. We got to enjoy some time in traditional Irish pubs and also spent an evening doing my laundry. (Thanks again, Nana and Papa.) Our time together went by too quickly! I was sad to leave them but I knew they were going to love the rest of their trip as they stopped in Limerick, London, Paris, and other cities.
I checked into my next hostel to meet up with my Saint Patrick’s Day tour group. I had booked a four day tour months in advance because I knew I would have no clue of where to go and what to do over one of the most celebrated holidays in Europe. I’m so glad I was on the tour because I met so many awesome people! Within 30 seconds of arriving, I met my friend Kelly, and we quickly became close throughout the entire weekend. There were over 40 people in the group, so we had an exciting time exploring Dublin, the Guinness storehouse, and the pub atmosphere over the weekend.
The streets turn completely green on Saint Patrick’s Day. Although the weather was freezing, everyone stayed positive and enjoyed the day. Clad in bright green with tattoos on our faces, we watched the annual parade and the championship rugby game between Ireland and England. As the night got later and the people migrated to the Temple Bar district, everything got much more exciting and memorable than I knew was possible. Our group went to a pub as a final hurrah to celebrate our last night together. I didn’t get much sleep that night, but it was all worth it. No Saint Patrick’s Day will ever compare.
I left Ireland with such amazing memories and even better friends. I’m so thankful for the time I spent there, and I definitely had the luck of the Irish on my side. Maybe I’ll be back again next year.